COVID-19

Farmers’ outlook improves amid pandemic woes

Sabri Ben-Achour Sep 3, 2020
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Farmers repair a grain drill while planting soybeans in April in Illinois. China is reportedly buying more soybeans, and that's one reason farmers are feeling better about the future. Scott Olson/Getty Images
COVID-19

Farmers’ outlook improves amid pandemic woes

Sabri Ben-Achour Sep 3, 2020
Heard on:
Farmers repair a grain drill while planting soybeans in April in Illinois. China is reportedly buying more soybeans, and that's one reason farmers are feeling better about the future. Scott Olson/Getty Images
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Farmers felt a lot better about farming in August than they did in June and July, according to the Ag Economy Barometer, put together by Purdue University and CME Group. It was up 26 points to 144, which means they felt a lot better.

Farmers have suffered this year: Restaurants stopped buying for a while, meat packing plants shut down, crop prices fell — and then there were the natural disasters.

“The last several months have been super tense,” said Dale Moore, executive vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. Now, farmers are a little more positive. “[That] doesn’t mean they’re jumping up and down and shooting off fireworks, but I can see some sunshine on this.”

Ray of sunshine No. 1 is trade, according to Michael Langemeier, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue.

“We’ve heard more positive news, particularly in relationship to China buying soybeans,” Langemeier said. “That’s really improved sentiment.”

Ray of sunshine No. 2: prices

“Farmers are paying attention to prices,” said Dan Sumner, professor of agricultural economics at University of California, Davis. “That’s the big deal going on here.”

Corn prices rose in August, in part because poor growing conditions limited supply, benefiting farmers in the Midwest. But as the economy improved, crop prices have been good to farmers elsewhere, too, including in California, which produces more crops in dollar terms than any other state.

“Hog prices have come back, cattle prices have come back a bit, milk prices came back a lot,” Sumner said.

Government payments to farmers have been critical, and Sumner said the economic downturn pushed some unemployed workers into agriculture, so labor shortages weren’t as bad as some farmers feared. Of course, all of the momentum farmers may be feeling now could evaporate if COVID-19 surges again in the fall or winter.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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